Post-Brexit nerves in Higher Education
In my recent discussions at the university on the subject of the increasing links between Malta and the University of Warwick, I have become very aware of Post-Referendum, Pre-Brexit nerves.
This has brought to mind a 1961 satirical article that I published in Technowledge, a glossy magazine published by the (then) University of Manchester Faculty of Technology, which later became UMIST.
Under the title “The Expanding University and the Common Market – A Signpost for the Future”, I assumed that the UK had become a Republic, had withdrawn from the Commonwealth and had lost its export markets. The government had then decided to nationalise the universities, to transfer all non-scientific courses to specially designated “Colleges of Advanced Arts” and to market the university’s scientific and technological courses under the banner “University of Greater Britain – Educates the world”.
I suggested that the universities had been re-organized, with each taking care of a different part of a course, thus introducing ‘modularisation’. Foreign students were recruited in bulk and, under a system of ‘student mobility,’ were put on a ‘conveyor belt system’ in batches of a thousand and spending only as long as was necessary in each of the institutions on the route. In this way, it was possible “to produce trained technologists in half the time and at half the normal cost”. If required, “a further course would be provided which was designed to convert a trained Technologist into an educated one”.
The internet was long in the future, but I had lecturers “travelling each day to the television studios where they gave their lectures”, which were recorded, shown in the lecture theatres and kept for re-use. The students never saw a live lecturer, although “rumours often circulated that the man at the back of the theatre was the lecturer, watching his telerecording”.
At that time, a “computing machine” weighed many tons and was housed in a dedicated building, rather than in a laptop case. Even so, I suggested that “The last month of each course was devoted to integration and correlation by an electronic brain which had gone through the course with the student and noted any discrepancy, omission or variation from the syllabus.” This would of course facilitate what we today call ‘validation’, ‘CATS ‘(credit accumulation and transfer’) and the production of an ‘academic transcript’.
This was several years before Harold Wilson had proposed the UK Open University, and I wrote, “As the University developed and expanded, so it founded its traditions and gradually matured, eventually becoming ‘the largest and most highly respected in the world, exporting degrees to all the corners of the earth’.”
I concluded by writing that “they who colonised the world are now educating it and the world is satiated at the summit of Britain’s wisdom”, that “the educational Revolution in Great Britain is now complete” and that, “as the Minister for Educational Exports and Technological Advancement declared; ‘Never in the field of human education was so much taught to so many by so few’.”
This was in 1961, at a time when the concepts of modular courses, major student mobility, validation and academic credit transfer were totally unknown and the UK just had Oxford and Cambridge and 21 other universities, all of high a standard. Today, of course, the UK has something like 150 universities, many of dubious standard, but recruiting students in bulk, often from abroad, just to remain viable.
As we move into our ‘Brexit New World’, it will be interesting to see how my predictions pan out.
Dr Martin G. Spillane University of Warwick Ambassador for Malta Sliema